A Guide to San Antonio's Essential Museums

click to enlarge A Guide to San Antonio's Essential Museums
Photo by Siggi Ragnar

Briscoe Western Art Museum // Often overlooked or misunderstood, the handsome Briscoe dedicates itself to “the preservation of the art, history and culture of the American West.” Housing a wide range of art and artifacts spanning five centuries (“from the Spanish conquest to the present day”), the museum counts Pancho Villa’s saddle (c. 1890-1910) and Santa Anna’s sword (1852) among its historical highlights. Making the most of a prime location along the River Walk, the collection spills out into the McNutt Sculpture Garden, a serene courtyard dotted with bronze works created by Western-inspired artists including Kent Ullberg, R.V. Greeves, Sandy Scott and Enrique “Kiko” Guerra. Typically hosted during the museum’s weekly free hours (4-9 p.m. Tuesdays), cultural programs like the monthly 210|West Gallery Talks and the Native Film Series (February-April) make for ideal outings for first-time visitors. 210 W. Market St., (210) 299-4499, briscoemuseum.org.

McNay Art Museum // Beyond the attractions one might expect from Texas’ first modern art museum — including traveling and site-specific exhibitions such as “Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008,” “Telling Tales: Contemporary Narrative Photography” and the highly anticipated retrospective “Chuck Ramirez: All This and Heaven Too,” opening September 2017 — the McNay draws all walks and ages with a variety of special programs and maintains an open-gate policy for picnicking on the picturesque grounds surrounding Marion Koogler McNay’s former residence, a 24-room Spanish Colonial Revival mansion. Although it offers free admission every Thursday from 4-9 p.m., the McNay takes things to the next level during monthly Second Thursday celebrations combining gallery tours, live music, food trucks and cold brews in a super-relaxed atmosphere. And for the cinephiles, the museum hosts regular screenings that complement exhibitions, not to mention classic revivals, foreign flicks and art-house fare in conjunction with its excellent Get Reel Film Series. 6000 N. New Braunfels Ave., (210) 824-5368, mcnayart.org.

San Antonio Museum of Art // Partnered with the Witte under the umbrella of the San Antonio Museum Association from 1925 to 1994, the San Antonio Museum of Art came into its own back in 1981 following a multimillion-dollar renovation of its historic digs in the former Lone Star Brewery. In addition to a robust collection that covers pre-Columbian, Spanish Colonial, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, contemporary art and Latin American folk art, SAMA welcomes traveling exhibitions (“28 Chinese” and “Rodin: The Human Experience” stand out among recent highlights) and hosts a wide assortment of engaging programs — from weekly art talks and “Sketching in the Galleries” sessions to film screenings and monthly Art Parties presented in partnership with KRTU. While a major renovation project will leave SAMA looking a bit rough around the edges for most of 2017, the show must go on — starting with “Of Country and Culture: The Lam Collection of Contemporary Australian Aboriginal Art” (February-May). Pro-tip: Take advantage of free general admission from 4-9 p.m. on Tuesdays and 10 a.m.-noon on Sundays. 200 W. Jones St., (210) 978-8100, samuseum.org.

The DoSeum // Since opening its doors back in June 2015, The DoSeum, the new incarnation of the San Antonio Children’s Museum, with its cutting-edge technology and focus on learning-through-doing, has wowed, engaged and educated visitors of all ages. Sure, it’s a wonderful place to take the kiddos — a place where they can burn as much energy exercising their brains as their feet — but it’s also a place where mom or dad can enjoy a rejuvenating lift in their own curiosity and wonder at the world we inhabit. The stunning facility, designed by local architects at Lake Flato to meet rigorous standards of sustainability and green building, features six distinct and permanent interactive centers for play/learning: The Big Outdoors, Little Town, Sensations Studio, Explore (a geography and culture exhibit), Innovation Station, Spy Academy and Imagine It! (a story creation center). Fusing elements often thought of as opposites, The DoSeum’s exhibits and programs meld cultural education with arts education and a deep STEM focus with a push for creative and critical thinking. 2800 Broadway, (210) 212-4453, thedoseum.org.

Witte Museum // With a rich history that dates back to the 1920s, the beloved Witte Museum celebrates the Lone Star State via traveling exhibitions, signature programs and permanent collections encompassing natural, regional, world and military history, anthropology and early Texas art. Growing in leaps and bounds since the 2004 appointment of Marise McDermott as president and CEO, the museum is in the midst of a major transformation promising “170 thousand square feet of renovation and expansion.” Scheduled for completion this spring, the “New Witte” comprises a Dinosaur Hall, a People of the Pecos Gallery, an Acequia Garden and other facilities where guests can experience Texas through three distinct windows of time — “millions of years ago … thousands of years ago … and hundreds of years ago when legendary chili queens, cattle kings, cowboys and vaqueros filled this wild and vivid land.” 3801 Broadway, (210) 357-1900, wittemuseum.org.


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